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Date of Issue: November 09, 2006

New bridge opening time delayed

Islanders and Longboat Key residents expecting that the U.S. Coast Guard would implement peak opening times of every 30 minutes on demand for the Cortez Bridge and Anna Maria Island Bridge this December in time for the winter season may have to wait a bit longer.

U.S. Coast Guard bridge specialist Michael Lieberum said that because the proposed rule change was different than the notice of proposed rule change that led to a public hearing earlier this year, Coast Guard officials have decided to re-advertise the notice in the Federal Register. That notice should appear in the Register between Nov. 1 and Nov. 10, he said.

Once published in the Register, the public has 30 days to comment on the proposal, which has previously drawn criticism from a number of area boating and sailing enthusiasts.

The USCG proposal also includes a "curfew" time for no bridge openings between 7:35 a.m. and 8:29 a.m. daily and 4:35 to 5:29 p.m. daily.

Lieberum said the Coast Guard is recommending a shortened public comment of possibly 15 days because of the prior public hearing.

If that happens, said Lieberum, the final ruling could become effective and implemented by Jan. 15, 2007.

The proposal is that the drawbridges will be raised every 30 minutes on demand by a boater between certain hours only from December to March, instead of the current 20-minute intervals at all times.

Members of the Barrier Island Elected Officials, particularly those on Longboat Key, have campaigned for the past five years to have the drawbridge times changed during the winter tourist season. Longboat Key Town Commissioner Jeremy Whatmough and other officials have claimed that the traffic backup at the Cortez-Gulf Drive intersection when the Cortez Bridge is raised during the season often extends south along Gulf Drive and across the Longboat Pass Bridge, making a routine 10-minute drive from Longboat Key to Bradenton Beach a one-hour crawl.

Lieberum said he was "optimistic" that the new schedule would begin Jan. 15, or at least some time during the upcoming season at the latest. He did not know if the Coast Guard would require another public hearing, but the bridge opening times will be adjusted "as soon as legally possible," he concluded.